Magazine article The Nation

Waiting in Afghanistan: What Will Follow the Pullout?

Magazine article The Nation

Waiting in Afghanistan: What Will Follow the Pullout?

Article excerpt

Contrary to the view of American officials and the

CBS Evening News, the Afghan government does not look like a house of cards set to fall to the U.S.-supported mujahedeen rebels upon the departure of the last Soviet soldier on February 15. Nor, however, does it appear likely that the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the leading party of the government, will maintain a significant hold on power as a result of ongoing negotiations between the Soviet government and the rebels. Since most rebel groups, sitting on stockpiles of C.I.A.purchased weapons, are likely to continue their jihad regardless of the outcome of the Soviet-mujahedeen talks, a more likely scenario seems to be a protracted civil war, with the winner achieving anything but a neat and glorious victory.

A week here in Kabul and several days in rural war zones forced me to question some basic assumptions about this civil war. Despite Soviet denials, for example, Kabul is very vulnerable to rebel harassment. Every night from my hotel balcony, I could see rockets streaming into the city, most headed for the airport, others, appearing to be significantly off course, landing in residential areas. But to infer, as the State Department and Dan Rather do, that this is causing widespread panic in the capital seems sensationalistic. For now, life for most of the 2.2 million Kabulites goes on as usual. The bazaars are as vibrant as ever, full of Afghans in both modern and traditional dress who have acclimated to the war. Those concerned about rebel attacks are those who have come too close to rockets for comfort, and they are more angry than worried. There are some shortages, as evidenced by lines for gasoline and bread, but this has not led to general unrest. In fact, many seem to be profiting from the war. The black market, with goods from Japan, India, the Soviet Union and elsewhere, is thriving. Millions of dollars, West German marks and other hard currencies are traded every week in the informal market in an alley off Chicken Street.

There are, as U.S. officials claim, many mujahedeen sympathizers living in the capital. Once I had shaken my government-provided "guide," I went downtown to find out who some of the people favored as their ruler. For the older men in the bazaar, President Najibullah was a big loser. Resistance commanders, such as the famous Ahmed Shah Massoud and Abdul Haq, received numerous votes of approval, usually according to ethnic identification. When asked about the exiled King Zahir Shah, the general reaction was best summed up by one man who shrugged his shoulders and Why not?"

The mujahedeen are not so popular among some Afghan women in the capital. In Kabul, women wearing high heels and Western-style clothing walk through the streets next to women who are veiled and fully covered, a striking contrast to life in refugee camps across the border, where women are usually kept in seclusion. "To each his or her own in Kabul," one female government supporter said proudly. Masooma Esmatee Wardak, who like many people in Kabul these days is quick to note that she is not a party member, is the leader of the All Afghanistan's Women Council, which she claims has 150,000 members. "We are not following radical lines here," she says. "Afghan women will never be totally independent like your American women. But we do think we have the right to work." Referring to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other fundamentalist elements of the mujahedeen who have vowed to restore the practice of purdah, she said, "Hekmatyar and some of the others think their blend of Islam is the only one. Well I am a Moslem, too, and so are the 270,000 women who work outdoors in this city today."

For supporters and opponents of the government alike, there is a sense of apprehension about the f"I think maybe things have to change because the government has done a bad job," claimed one merchant, "but I am not sure I like what the other sides [the splintered resistance groups] have to offer. …

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